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Grand Canyon Now Certified As International Dark Sky Park

Harun Mehmedinovic/SKYGLOW Project

Tomorrow the Grand Canyon National Park will celebrate its new status as an International Dark Sky Park. The certification honors the park’s efforts to retrofit or replace thousands of inefficient light fixtures over the past three years. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with park ranger Rader Lane about why Grand Canyon is joining this international effort to combat light pollution.

Rader, what did Grand Canyon National Park have to do to get this certification?

To get the certification from the International Dark Sky Association we had to show them that we had retrofit 67% of the lights in the park to be dark sky compliant or night sky friendly… One of the most important thing about this is Grand Canyon’s scale is really unprecedented. We’re surveyed 5,000 lights in the park. This is the only national park with a K-12 school inside it. It’s an immense operation, and for Grand Canyon National Park to take those steps to become an international dark sky park is setting the bar for other large national parks and public lands in the United States and the world to follow our lead.

So part of this effort, I imagine, is to protect that unique environment of the Grand Canyon. Do you have examples animals, birds, bats, in the canyon that are affected by the way the lighting works?

We can pretty much say that most birds migrating over the canyon are affected by the light pollution they see…. the bugs, the nocturnal mammals…. The data we’ve got so far in the canyon and around the country suggests light domes aren’t good for the majority of species that operate in the night.

 Do you think this will change the visitor experience at Grand Canyon in any way? Most of us think about coming to the Grand Canyon in daytime, what would they see if they go there at night?

The motto circulating that’s bene circulating around national parks the past few years…is “half the park is after dark.” Coming to Grand Canyon where we’re high above a good portion of the atmosphere, in a high desert, where it’s very dry, you can see the Milky Way in a way that 80 percent of people in the United States can’t see today. There’s detailed structure in the center of Milky Way galaxy, there’s thousands upon thousands of stars…. So Grand Canyon’s doing and has done everything we could to preserve that experience.  

 So we know the Grand Canyon is a very culturally and spiritually important place for a lot of native tribes. Does the dark sky certification fit into that heritage in any way?

Absolutely. Grand Canyon region is one the richest places on the planet when it comes to cultural astronomy. There are eleven tribes intimately connected to Grand Canyon region to this day. Many of these tribes’ constellation lore, for example, rival that of the ancient Greek constellations. The Diné people, for example, have an incredibly rich constellation canon and history. The Kaibab Band of the Southern Paiutes is the world’s first International Dark Sky Nation. That is something we are trying to protect, preserve, educate people about, is that  immense cultural and spiritual connection that the people of this landscape have practiced for thousands of years.

Right, and you are joining this family of nations, cities, other parks, monuments that already have this certification.

Yeah, absolutely. Arizona has the most international dark sky places of any state in the US. Adding 1.2 million acres of a landscape to the dark sky places is huge achievement, a milestone for the dark sky preservation movement. When we start connecting more of these landscapes together, we’re just going to build likely a larger dark sky sanctuary that will be world famous.  

Rader Lane, congratulations, and thanks for joining me today.

Thanks for having me.

The public is invited to celebrate Grand Canyon’s new status as an International Dark Sky Park tomorrow at 10am at a ceremony at the South Rim at Mather Amphitheater. Tomorrow is also the first day of the park’s annual Star Party , when visitors to the North or South Rim can meet with astronomers and learn more about the night sky.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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